The SNP has revealed that the British Crown Estate will be able to build-up a new portfolio in Scotland after the devolution of the existing UK Crown Estate portfolio in Scotland passes to control of the Scottish Government as the Scottish Crown Estate – as planned in the draft Scotland Bill to be passed by Westminster after the May elections.
During questioning at a session of the Scottish Parliament’s Devolution Committee, it emerged that following an agreement with the UK Government, the British Crown Estate would still be able to make new investments and build up a new portfolio of land in Scotland – the surplus revenue of which would flow to the Treasury rather than to the Scottish Government.
MSP Linda Fabiani, who is a member of the Devolution Committee and represented the SNP on the Smith Commission, made clear that this decision ran contrary to her understanding of what was discussed at the Smith Commission itself.
Land reform expert Andy Wightman said that the UK Government’s proposal for the Crown Estate is a “wholly unnecessary device that has the potential to confuse matters and contradict the core Smith recommendation” and which is “a recipe for confusion, conflict and chaos”.
Fabiani said: “This represents nothing less than an abandonment of the Smith Commission agreement by the UK Government – no wonder experts are telling us that Westminster’s plans are a ‘recipe for confusion, conflict and chaos’.
“Despite what was agreed by all the parties in the Smith Commission, the Westminster Government has unilaterally decided that the UK Crown Estate should be able to continue to buy up land and assets in Scotland – with all the revenue flowing to the Treasury in London rather than benefitting people in Scotland.
“In effect, the UK Government’s plans would mean there are two Crown Estates operating in Scotland at the same time. This idea isn’t just bizarre, it’s completely unsustainable.
“The UK Government must listen to the experts and ensure that full responsibility for the Crown Estate and its assets are in Scotland’s hands- rather than allowing the UK Crown Estate to continue hoovering up Scotland’s wealth and assets as if nothing had changed.”
Transcript of proceedings at Devolution Committee, Scottish Parliament 5 March 2015
Vivienne King, Director of Business Operations and General Counsel, Crown Estate: “We would simply be one investor alongside others wishing to include Scotland as a place to invest.”
[LATER IN THE SESSION]
Bruce Crawford MSP: “…If the Crown Estate were to make future investments in Scotland after devolution, will the receipts etc. that flow from that come from the devolved government or will they continue to be reserved.”
Vivienne King: “They will continue to be reserved.”
Linda Fabiani MSP: “Can I just say that I would like more clarity on this as well because I don’t know if Tavish will agree with me but this was something brand new to me compared to all the discussions we had at the Smith Commission. Can I have it very clear that what you’re saying is that in your understanding, as the commercial enterprise that you have talked about yourself as at the moment, is that there will be a transfer of what you currently have at the given date following the scheme or whatever and from that point on, you are free to start all over again building up a portfolio in Scotland?”
Vivienne King: “Well, the investments that the Crown Estate make are assessed as those opportunities arise and they’re made in accordance with our investment strategy. As I’ve mentioned, we are a major investor in property in the UK and we’d like to think with Government support we could continue to be able to invest UK-wide with the advantages that that brings in terms of employment and skills and so on. So, that sits behind…”
Linda Fabiani MSP: “So, what you’re saying is what you have agreed with the UK Government that following the transfer of what you currently have, the devolution stops there and you carry on as a commercial enterprise potentially in Scotland.
Vivienne King: “Potentially, yes. The Command Paper makes reference for it being possible for the Crown Estate to make investments in Scotland after the transfer and they will remain a reserved matter.
Linda Fabiani MSP: “Can I please have it put on record Convener, that it is absolutely opposed to any understanding at all I had when I sat on the Smith Commission.”